It was a gamble and did the fish bite!


Choices. Everybody makes them -- some for the better and some that turn out for the worst.

A week ago yesterday George Cochran, a bass fishing pro from Hot Springs, Ark., knew the unorthodox choices he had made during the BASS Masters Classic on Lay Lake in Alabama were for the better.

At a time of year when most of the country's top 41 bass fishermen were expecting to work main channel structure of the Coosa River impoundment for largemouth and spotted bass, Cochran went into the shallows and came out with the $100,000 first prize.

Conditions on Lay Lake, a 12,000-acre impoundment near Birmingham, for the three-day Classic were typical of Alabama summers -- water temperatures into the 80-degree range with sunny skies.

According to tournament pros, those conditions should have chased the bass out of the hot shallows into the deeper main channels, where the water would be cooler and the current more oxygenated.

And, according to Classic officials, they were right.

The heaviest concentrations of bass were stacked up in the main channels, but they were suspended in the water column and not closely related to changes in the bottom contour or underwater structure.

Figuring where the fish were suspended and getting them to bite became problematic, and only three anglers in the field brought in their five-fish limit each day.

Of the top three finishers in the Classic, only Mickey Bruce of Buford, Ga., caught the majority of his fish (13 fish, 26 pounds, 15 ounces) from deeper water. Bruce used a Stanley jig with a Lunker City piggyback trailer and a Norman Deep Little N, and said most of the fish he caught were suspended in an area of submerged trees.

Second-place finisher Davy Hite (13 fish, 30-14) of Prosperity, S.C., said he caught most of his keepers from a 10-yard stretch of Blue Springs Creek. Hite fished the small stretch of rocky bottom amid deep standing timber with a Norman Deep Little N and DD22 crankbaits and a 3/8 -ounce Bulldog jig with a V&M; Pork Chop trailer.

But it was Cochran, a 46-year-old pro who has failed to qualify for only one Classic in 15 years, who went the extra step and made the most unorthodox choice.

"I was fishing different from everybody else," said Cochran, who caught most of his three limits (15 fish, 31-14) from a 50-acre mud flat in the back of Bulley Creek. "I knew nobody was going to fish in 2 feet of water at this time of year. But there are always some fish shallow throughout the year."

In fact, said Cochran, just getting to his 50-acre mud flat was a challenge.

"The place I was fishing was so shallow that even the [Bassmasters television] camera crew could not go in there," said Cochran, who also won the 1987 Classic on the Ohio River near Louisville, Ky. "I had to run that Ranger [bass boat] at 60 miles per hour, wide open on its pad to get over a shallow bar in front of the flat."

Even while fishing, Cochran said, his boat and trolling motor continually churned up muddy water.

Once in the shallows, Cochran pitched a plastic worm to grassy banks and used spinnerbaits and shallows running crankbaits to cast to isolated stumps and bushes scattered across the mud flat.

Cochran's most productive baits were chartreuse and white 3/8 -ounce Strike King Premier Pro Model spinnerbaits, grape and powder blue Riverside Pro Rib worms, a Cordell Little O crankbait and chartreuse and white Strike King buzzbait.

Including Cochran, only four anglers have won more than one Classic: Bobby Murray of Hot Springs (1971 and 1978), Hank Parker of Denver, N.C., (1979 and 1989) and Rick Clunn of Montgomery, Texas (1976, 1977, 1984 and 1990).

Pub Date: 8/18/96

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